DETROIT— If there were a quick and easy solution, surely this bunch would have figured it out by now.
Alex Rodriguez has over 600 home runs in his career. Curtis Granderson hit 43 during the regular season. Robinson Cano is one of the best all-around players in the game.
The three of them are trapped in the throes of sudden batting slumps at the worst possible time, and the rest of the New York Yankees haven’t been much better.
“There is no explanation sometimes in baseball,” first baseman Mark Teixeira said.
Like a golfer with the shanks during a major tournament, the Yankees have looked helpless at the plate in the biggest games of the season. They were hitting .205 in these playoffs as they prepared for Game 3 of the AL championship series Tuesday night. New York lost the first two games to the Detroit Tigers.
Before the game, the Yankees benched Rodriguez and Nick Swisher.
It’s the second time A-Rod has been benched this postseason. He’s 3 for 26 in the playoffs so far, including 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handers. Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander takes the mound Tuesday against New York, trying to help the Tigers to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Swisher has struggled about as much as Rodriguez, going 4 for 26 this postseason.
Eric Chavez starts at third base in place of Rodriguez. Brett Gardner is leading off and playing left field, making his first start since April 17.
Shortstop Derek Jeter is injured, and aside from unsung outfielder Raul Ibanez, New York’s power hitters have seemed lost. It’s the type of October swoon that can derail a season, and no team is ever really safe.
“It’s a tough game. No matter what kind of career — what kind of lineup you throw out there — you’re going to have those times when it’s not clicking,” said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, whose team is playing San Francisco in the NLCS. “You’ve just got to battle through those times, because they’re bound to happen.”
Rodriguez is 3 for 23 in the playoffs. Over the last two postseasons, he has five hits — the same number as Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter. Manager Joe Girardi has pinch-hit for A-Rod late in games and even benched him entirely for Game 5 of the division series against Baltimore.
Granderson homered that night against the Orioles, but he’s 3 for 26 in these playoffs. Cano’s collapse is even more startling. The second baseman finished the regular season on a 24-for-39 tear, but he’s 2 for 32 since then and was hitless in his last 26 at-bats entering Tuesday’s game.
Swisher (4 for 26) and Russell Martin (5 for 26) aren’t producing either. The Yankees won a key game against Baltimore when Ibanez hit a pair of late homers, and he hit another in Game 1 versus Detroit during a four-run ninth inning against struggling closer Jose Valverde. That was the only real highlight for the New York offense lately.
“To have that many guys and that many good hitters, sure it’s surprising. I’m sure it’s frustrating for them to have that happen to them,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “You’re always going to see good pitching this time of year, you understand that, but for them to have that many struggles, I think they’re a little surprised.”
In the regular season, patience is a virtue. Streaks and slumps have time to even out over the course of 162 games. A player can start poorly but finish the year with his usual impressive statistics, the way Albert Pujols did.
“You know the Yankees are going to break out here at some point,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “That is just a matter of fact.”
Maybe so, but they can’t afford to wait much longer.
“The team’s not going to be too high or too low during the regular season, but in the postseason you have five or seven games, everything is magnified,” Teixeira said. “A two-game losing streak during the regular season, no one even talks about. But two games in a row in a seven-game series is a big deal, so we have a big hole to dig ourselves out of.”
The worst postseason batting average by a team that played at least seven games is .195, shared by the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers and 1965 Minnesota Twins, according to STATS, LLC.
The 1974 Oakland Athletics won the World Series despite hitting .198 in the postseason. The 1962 Yankees did as well, even though Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were a combined 7 for 48.
Perhaps the most encouraging historical memory for the Yankees comes from another of their championship seasons. In 1996, New York was shut down by Atlanta in the first two games of the World Series. At that point, the Braves had won five straight games by a combined score of 48-2.
Then the Yankees took the next four and won the title.
“It’s just baseball. Things turn in a matter of a heartbeat,” Granderson said. “It’s amazing how things tend to go that way — from the good side to the bad side, from the bad side to the good side.